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Inconvenient Heroes - The Survivors of 9/11/01

Having just passed the fifth anniversary of September 11, 2001, and having watched at least four programs on the ongoing health issues of first responders, and those near the World Trade Center, I wonder about living versus dead heroes.

Heroes are those who have shown significant courage. "Courage" is defined as "the ability to control fear and to be willing to deal with something that is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant (Cambridge Dictionary).

Those who raced to save the NY victims of 9/11/01, and later spent months digging through the rubble to find the slightest fragment of remains, were courageous. They took on unpleasant and fearful tasks. Many died. Many more have survived. However, because of the risk involved, heroes often do not survive unscathed.

Lingering injury and disability conflict with "heroic" images. These problems can make them very expensive. It seems to me that we live in a time when the "good" heroes are conveniently dead heroes. Studies show that roughly 70 % of the first responders and workers at the World Trade Center have significant and lingering health problems. These are primarily respiratory and stomach problems, and include everything from black lung to an array of cancers. They are having to fight for medical care and for workers compensation. Many have been forced to retire. Doctors expect that it may be 15 to 20 YEARS before some of the aftereffects present themselves.

These are "inconvenient" heroes because they make politicians up and down the line look bad: from President Bush who promised to stand behind them and support them, to the EPA that lied about the health risks at ground zero (and the surrounding area), to the state of New York that won't acknowledge their claims; to the City government who has been obstructive at best. These surviving heroes are an embarrassment.

Washington wanted to get back to business as usual as soon as possible. They thought it was more important to get the economic engine of Wall Street back up and running than ensuring public health. It is also likely that the rapid (and risky) response played well to the public politically.

So lies were told and safety measures ignored, and now tens of thousands of people are sick and dying. Those who are damaged extend beyond the people at ground zero and Fresh Kills to those who live and work in the surrounding area. School kids near the site are having health problems. Workers who were brought in to clean up the dust and debris are having health problems. Residents of the area who were told it was safe to return to their homes are having health problems. The lies from the politically edited EPA report have damaged so many lives.

The workers at ground zero and Fresh Kills have lost an average of 12 years of lung usage. That means they have lost an average of 12 years of their lives. For what? Safety equipment could have been provided and required to be used - as it was at the Pentagon. After the initial response, all but necessary workers could have been withdrawn from the site. The clean up should have been dealt with as a major toxic disaster. Instead, those toxins were spread all over the area by trucks running debris through the streets 24/7. Residents and workers should have been kept out of the area until cleanup of all areas was completed. Many of the buildings still have not been decontaminated.

This is not unlike what has happened in the wake of hurricane Katrina. It too left a large toxic mess in its wake, and workers and residents are largely unprotected from the hazards. Instead, rebuilding as fast as possible is the first and most important goal - no matter how many lives are damaged in the process. Also similar to New York, immigrant laborers (including large numbers of undocumented laborers) largely filled the gap for the least desirable jobs. In NY, they crawled through the ventilation ducts (without masks), and in New Orleans they ripped out mold and chemical infested debris (without masks or gloves). What do we value? It is not surprising that some of these New York workers refer to themselves as "heroes to zeroes."

The first responders and workers struggle with survivor's guilt. Many of them are struggling ... but they are alive ... and they were told they were heroes. Publicly fighting for their rights seems cheap and unworthy of heroes. But what about the other heroes? What about those who live in the area and returned? What about the workers who went back to contaminated work places? What about the school children and staff who returned to classes in buildings with deadly dust blowing through the vents?

When does a hero become a victim, and who are they the victims of? Unfortunately, for most of these victims "terrorists" are not to blame for their problems. It is the government that was responsible for their health and safety. It is their government who lead them to believe they were safe because it was expedient (and cheaper) to promote a lie than do the right thing. Now, five years after the fact, the government still does not want to do the right thing - not for the first responders and recovery crews, and certainly not for the residents and workers.

It is clear that our political leaders do not have 1/100th the courage of the inconvenient heroes. Yes dead heroes are definitely preferable to living ones. The myths don't get tarnished by the realities of being "courageous," and lies can be more easily buried.

Hopefully the recent coverage of these problems will force an appropriate response and much needed help. However, it is up to us to apply the pressure on our elected representatives as well.

Related Articles
9/08/06 Fox News, Residents Rally to Highlight Ground Zero Health Problems

9/05/06 CBS, Lung Problems Plague 9/11 Workers

Sundance Channel, Dust to Dust

9/09/06 Barrett, AP, Lawmakers Say Ground Zero Workers Unsafe

Confined Space, Ground Zero Workers: The Continuing Cost Of A Cover-Up

9/12/06 Sierra Club, Pollution and Deception At Ground Zero

Sierra Club Report. Harmful Legacy of Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero: How Post 9/11 Disaster Endangers America (pdf)

Posted by Rowan Wolf at September 14, 2006 10:13 AM
Comment #181226

Rowan, this is nothing new. NAAV is an organization that my father belongs to. He was a technician for the University of Dayton when he went onto “hot” atolls to retrieve instruments used to record various parameters during nuclear tests in the 50’s and 60’s. They were told it was safe. Their radiation instruments were pegged at their Max range. He recounts how Navy ships were placed within fallout zones to test soldier reactions and soldiers were marched into hot zones.

Of course, we remember the Tuskegee Institute Human guinea pigs.

Sadly, this is often the result of zealots and secrecy expanded to unreasonable degrees.

Posted by: gergle at September 14, 2006 10:46 AM
Comment #181233

Such a sad commentary on what we have become…we should be grateful beyond words to these men and woman ! We rely on them and believe in them daily to protect us, rescue us, save us, and revive us, then turn our backs on them when they need us. You know, I believe this is still the greatest country in the world, but there are times when I am so incredibly ashamed at the outrageous lack of action by those who have the ability to make things happen.
Paybacks are a bitch, huh??!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Sandra Davidson at September 14, 2006 11:06 AM
Comment #181234

Amen, Rowen Wolf, Thank you for pointing out what I have thought for a long time.I agree That the First Responders professionals-Fire,Police,EMT,Paramedic
other health workers and just plain folks who felt that it was their duty, no privlege to help others in N.Y.C after 9/11, and also after Katrina in New Orleans were given so little respratory protection.
I’ve read that they were told masks were optional at ground zero? And that there weren’t enough available anyway.Dead heroes are
“All too convenient”
to our present administration.

Since I have a daughter who just started school to eventually become a Paramedic, you bet I think about these things all the time. We have to keep our goverments “feet to the fire” on this, lobby for better funding for State Health Depts. many who have had their funding slashed in the last half dozen years.We must fight for better health coverage and pensions & realistic long term disability payments for all First Responders should disaster arise. Better yet, protect their respritory health with better up to date gear.

Posted by: L. Friedman at September 14, 2006 11:07 AM
Comment #181253


Sometimes things are not known at the time to be as dangerous as we now know them to be. That can be excused to some degree, though ignorance due to neglect is not acceptable.

In the instances you mentioned, I’d agree that the government overstepped its bounds and allowed people to be used as guinea pigs without their knowledge or consent. That is unconscionable.

It’s is of interest to note that it is, in fact, “nothing new” as you stated. The examples ranged over a 75 year time frame, from the Tuskegee experiments in 1932 to the nuclear tests in the 50’s/60’s to events of this decade. That includes a broad range of varying administrations, people, cultural norms, ideologies and situations.

Perhaps it is true: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Posted by: joebagodonuts at September 14, 2006 12:08 PM
Comment #181288

I watched a couple of programs about this very issue. Some of the notable things I remember:

1. The EPA lied about the air quality, and the White House changed the wording about what they did say.

2. There are first responders who have already died of mesothelioma, their only exposure to asbestos in their lifetime was at ground zero. Mesothelioma usually takes 20-30 years to develop in the high risk professions usually associated with it. One of the people who died was a female paramedic who retrieved body parts at ground zero. Her medical treatment has been denied because they had to file a claim within 2 years. She wasn’t diagnosed until the 3rd year.

3. The money that the government allocated for medical care for first responders was cut, then restored. The city or the state (I forget which) administering the money is using it to fight claims in court instead of for the care.

4. Some of these first responders are very ill and can no longer work at all and being given minimal if any workman’s comp.

5. People who lived nearby and left because their apartments were covered in the dust, were told it was safe to return and to clean up their own places. They were given no warnings nor instructions.

I am disgusted at our government response to this, and of course many other issues.

Thank you for posting about it.

Posted by: womanmarine at September 14, 2006 2:38 PM
Comment #181298


Agreed. Sometimes people don’t realize the danger they are in. That was true of my father, I think. I believe he enjoyed the cutting edge technology and the inclusion into a secret society. The same cannot be said of the U.S. government in this instance. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were studied and a great deal of data was developed regarding the biological effects of radiation exposure. Marie Curie’s death 1934 helped to create an understanding of the dangers. In 1941 exposure limits were established. By the mid fifties, they knew well the dangers. It was simply considered in the Corporate State’s interest to keep secret the exposure dangers they were cavalierly imparting to contractors and soldiers.

Posted by: gergle at September 14, 2006 3:40 PM
Comment #181305

Of course the EPA lied to all these people. Because under the Bush administration, there ceased to be anything remotely resembling what was formerly the EPA.
My (retired) father, a scientist and epidemiologist who once worked at the EPA and as an emergency response coordinator for the NJ State Health Dept. knew this with 100% certainty after 9/11. He told me right after the attack that it was a death sentence to send the responders and/or the local residents back into that area. He understood exactly what atomized and burning toxins they were submitting themselves to by going into the area so soon after the towers fell.
He thought the federal government should have automatically made the WTC site a high priority Superfund clean-up site, have made everyone wait at least three weeks before going in, and that when they did go in, all workers should have all been wearing heavy-duty haz-mat suits and state of the art full respiratory gear. He also thought that no one should live anywhere near that toxic soup until a Superfund level clean up had been thoroughly completed — most especially the children.

As shameful as it is, likely nothing will be done, and no aid will be given to all of these very sick heros or for the equally sick residents who still live there. Kanye West after Katrina had it right when he said that George Bush doesn’t care about people. He said black people specifically, but it’s not just black folks. Whether Black, Brown or White, it doesn’t really matter. Neocon Republicans don’t care about typical average American citizens like you and I. The vast majority of us are all just fodder to be fed to their two machines: Their Wealth Machine. Their War Machine.
After we have served their purposes, and are all used up, we are to be discarded.

Posted by: Adrienne at September 14, 2006 4:14 PM
Comment #181351

I’m sorry I don’t really care what you think about President Bush’s politics or policies.

However, if you really think that he would send people into the area because he didn’t care about them, then I feel sorry for you because you truly have no soul.

I may not have liked Clinton or disliked him immensely but I never felt that he did things that he did in a callous and uncaring way.

Posted by: Keith at September 14, 2006 9:18 PM
Comment #181357

“However, if you really think that he would send people into the area because he didn’t care about them, then I feel sorry for you because you truly have no soul. “

Ok, then YOU explain why the EPA, under White House orders, said the air was OK and the risk minimal. You MUST have a wonderfully well thought out explanation since you accused one of the nicest people on this forum of having no soul.
PS, nice way to work a Clinton reference in there.

Here’s a few links if you care to know what your talking about:

Posted by: Observer at September 14, 2006 9:48 PM
Comment #181400

Back to the original thread of this discussion.

I found some interesting information Starting on pg. 57 of a document by Rand corp.a conference in 2006 titled ‘Protecting Emergency Responders, Lessons learned from terrorist attacks’. It is worth taking a look at.

It shows how cumbersome,hot,heavy,outdated,what full face respiratory gear. Most firemen had at ground zero if they had any type at all. With only 15 to 30 minutes of air at a time. They couldn’t see well most of the time, plus hoses and equipment got in the way of what they were doing.
Most of the problem seemed to be with cartrige type respirators or older full face respirators.
Quite a few First Responders removed their respiratory gear. I couldn’t tell if EMT’s were required to wear a light weight mask just over their nose and mouth the same type you use if your using a can of spray paint to spray furniture or something. The report read like it was a hit or miss thing,some EMT’s weren’t getting much direction
from superiors.

I talked to my daughter tonight about what had happened to some First Responders in N.Y.C at ground zero and the climbing death count. She said it was a hot topic of conversation in school for the last 2 weeks. She says she listens alot to the Paramedics and EMT’s who have at least 20 yrs. of experience at the job. I told her to keep on listening to them and ask a ton of questions.
To all the First Responders out there stay safe and Thank You.

Posted by: L. Friedman at September 15, 2006 1:31 AM
Comment #181408

Observer, thanks so much for your kind support. :^x

“However, if you really think that he would send people into the area because he didn’t care about them, then I feel sorry for you because you truly have no soul.”

Well, now there’s a piece of bassackwards logic! So because the president doesn’t care about people, I have no soul? So, this must also mean that because the president can’t say three words without sounding like a moron, I’m without a brain?
Isn’t it strange how liberals are so riddled with flaws due to our current leadership?

Posted by: Adrienne at September 15, 2006 2:48 AM
Comment #181422

Weary Willie,
I went to the beach this summer, I didn’t see the sign telling me to pick out recruits. Mind telling the rest of us what you are talking about?

Posted by: gergle at September 15, 2006 5:21 AM
Comment #181472

The militia is supposed to be ALL of us, willing to join TOGETHER to fight for our country.

As it stands now, we are a divided country.
One side is willing to give up their 2nd Amendment rights and worry only about keeping the rights they agree with and the other side is willing to fight for their 2nd Amendment rights but not some of the others.

On one side, people believe terrorists over their own President and are willing to offer understanding and hugs to terrorists but automatically assume their own President is lying about everything and is to blame for everything.
On the other side, we have people who refuse to question any decision their President has made.

On one side, we have people who believe their President wants Americans to die so he intentionally sent them to their deaths.
On the other side, we have people who believe their President can do no wrong.

On and on it goes.

We no longer “pick out recruits” defend our country, we “pick out recruits” to defend our party.

Its kind of hard to “defend your home” when the foundation it was built on is ignore.

Posted by: kctim at September 15, 2006 11:01 AM
Comment #181545


enlighten me. what are some of the “truths” of this administration?

Posted by: sinterfyre at September 15, 2006 1:35 PM
Comment #181588

“On one side, people believe terrorists over their own President and are willing to offer understanding and hugs to terrorists but automatically assume their own President is lying about everything and is to blame for everything.
On the other side, we have people who refuse to question any decision their President has made.”

Well, you got the “refuse to question” side right. But, sorry, being against torturing is not the same as “hugs”. You seem to be suffering from a case of bushlike “black and white” syndrome.

Posted by: Observer at September 15, 2006 4:01 PM
Comment #181637

“On one side, we have people who believe their President wants Americans to die so he intentionally sent them to their deaths.”

I’ll stand by what I said, that this president and his administration doesn’t really care about average Americans, and that they’ll use people for their own purposes and then discard them without any means of support when they suffer afterwards.

There is plenty of evidence I can point to in order to back that statement up. Aside from the lack of support being shown to these heroic 9/11 responders, and the hapless residents who are living in a toxic waste dump in Manhattan, there is the uncaring way our soldiers have been treated. From cutting veterans benefits, to taking away our veterans former right to the yearly chance to speak with members of Congress, to not supplying them with proper armor, to stop-lossing them for 4, 5, and 6 tours of duty in Iraq, they’ve shown exactly how much they “support the troops.” How about Katrina? You think that disaster proved how caring and compassionate this administration is? Victims of a disaster going without water and food for 5 days and dying from thirst and heatstroke while helicopters fly overhead? While the president cuts birthday cakes and plays guitar and goes to fundraisers? That wasn’t just incompetence Tim, that was a blatantly uncaring attitude we all saw as well. Hell, even hiring an inexperienced crony like Brownie to head up FEMA displays a cavalier and uncaring attitude toward our people and his responsibilities as the president. Look at how the victims of Katrina are still living today a year later. Caring? Compassionate? I don’t think so.

Read it and weep:
The EPA’s lies after 9/11 came directly from the National Security Council at the White House. This is common knowledge at this point, and there is absolutely no use in denying it.
Sometimes you seem so busy trying to deal out equal blows to each side for their “partisanship” that you want to completely overlook what the real facts are concerning the actions of our current “leadership”.

Posted by: Adrienne at September 15, 2006 6:40 PM
Comment #181674

I have the utmost respect for fire fighters, police men and women and paramedics and EMTs who VOLUNTARILY put their life on the line for the rest of us.

But I find it difficult to be concerned about the plight of a few hundred when the suffering of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of Vietnam War vets continues to be ignored by the government that sent them into that hell hole!

And the majority of these veterans did not volunteer to go. They were DRAFTED!

Posted by: vietnam_vet at September 15, 2006 8:39 PM
Comment #181766

Good article Rowan, even though this is sadly just one of many such issues that have occurred (and are occurring) in this country as a result of our slow descent into heartless greed and corporatism.

It’s great that this is one issue that is actually getting some attention, but horrifying how many other similar issues are being (and have been) completely ignored.

Our soldiers are regularly used as human guinea pigs (that article touches on older examples) when they are deployed overseas, being given experimental and dangerous anti-malarials (Lariam, for example), antibiotics and countless other drugs after being forced to sign waiver agreements that absolve the government from any liability. They are routinely given Cipro as a prophylactic measure, even though the class of drugs it belongs to, fluoroquinolone antibiotics, were originally designed and approved as a last line of defense against resistant bacterium and has destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans, including myself.

Millions of pregnant women in the United States and abroad were used as lab rats (with pocketbooks, of course) for a drug known as diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was purported to prevent miscarriages. This drug was prescribed from 1938 all the way up to the early 1970’s in America (and even through the mid-90’s in some third world countries), even though it had been proven completely ineffective for the purpose it was being prescribed in 1953. The millions of offspring of these women now suffer from a multitude of health problems, including a myriad of autoimmune diseases and various forms of previously rare cancers, as a result.

These issues have been going on for decades and transcend all party lines. There are millions of victims (the total raw numbers surpass even the most ruthless of history’s monsters, including Hitler himself) of human testing all around the world (look up the experiments done with the drug Trovan by Pfizer in Nigeria), most of whom will never even receive a penny in compensation for their suffering. Some have been poisoned clandestinely, through government experiments or negligence, or due to the FDA’s proclivity to release pharmaceuticals onto the market before adequate studies have been done and refusing to take prompt action when problems appear in post-marketing surveillance (Thalidomide, Levaquin (still on the market), Vioxx, too many to list).

Sadly, I could go on all day with this; I haven’t even touched on the instances of environmental contamination (try reading about the problems arising on and near the Hanford Nuclear site in Washington State). There are simply too many examples of these atrocities to ever even hope to list them all. How or why Americans are not up in arms over this, demanding immediate change and accountability, is really beyond me. The fact that no one pays attention or talks about these issues (in the media or elsewhere) could have something to do with it though.

Posted by: Liberal Demon at September 16, 2006 7:01 AM
Comment #181964

tens of thousands are sick and dying because of 9-11? Hmm, so that’s what you got from watching four TV shows ehh? Maybe you better stop watching TV for your news?

We are all responsible for our own health and safety first and foremost. In a world where the government takes the primary responsiblity for everyone, then everyones standard of living falls. We see this time and time again.

Vote for a government offical who is a Hero. John McCain. McCain served, McCain has medals. McCain put his life on the line for you. Corrupt Hillary never served.

Posted by: Stephen at September 17, 2006 5:26 AM
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